Live streaming video games and the eSports industry have seen considerable growth over the past few years, and it doesn't seem like that's going to change anytime soon. Based on those figures, it's not extremely surprising to hear about the partnership between Twitch, the world's largest online video game live stream service, and Blizzard, a company that arguably invented eSports with games like Starcraft and Starcraft II.
The benefits for both parties are clear--Twitch gets to broaden its eSports coverage while getting a few incentives to increase the subscriptions to Twitch Prime, and Blizzard gets a ton of promotional time for their properties. But what will this mean for all those Dota 2 fans?
Is Blizzard Buying More Viewers?
Kinda. While this partnership makes sense given the growth of eSports and the popularity of video game streaming, some of the perks of this deal have me raising my eyebrow a bit. First of all, Blizzard has agreed to award loot boxes for their most-streamed properties, including Overwatch, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm to subscribers to Twitch Prime, Twitch's paid premium service. It has also given Twitch third-party rights to stream some Blizzard-exclusive tournaments that feature the aforementioned games.
If we were to translate this partnership into the world of professional athletics, it might look something like this: The NFL grants ESPN and ESPN alone exclusive access to its sporting events while sending NFL swag to customers who have subscribed to ESPN's more exclusive cable packages. As a result, NFL viewership on ESPN increases while viewership of all the other sportsball organizations (NBA, MLB, NHL) decreases.
This hypothetical situation is a little skewed because it's not really like the NFL needs the boost in viewership, and ESPN has plenty of viable competitors when it comes to sports broadcasting. The funny thing about Blizzard's partnership with Twitch is that Blizzard does need a bit of a boost in viewership, and Twitch doesn't really have any broadcasting competitors outside of YouTube.
Based on twitchmetrics.com's stats, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm consistently rank within Twitch's top ten most viewed games but don't often make it to the top five. League of Legends, Dota 2, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive have loomed high on this list for years. Dota 2 also seems to have the eSports market cornered as far as tournament winnings and professional player salaries--a quick glance at esportsearnings.com verifies that Dota 2 players are among the most well-paid members of the eSports community. Last year's Dota 2 International Championships saw the prize pool rise to over $20 million and was the most watched eSports event in the industry's history.
As far as Twitch's dominance in the world of video game streaming, I had to do some digging to find a list of sites that offer a similar service, most of which I had never heard of. The reason that I have never heard of these sites--other than YouTube, of course--is the same reason Netflix subscribers have never heard of Crackle. Twitch has asserted itself as the go-to service for live streaming video games, which definitely has the potential to positively impact Blizzard's eSports properties.
Will There Be Backlash?
Hard to tell--but probably. Despite the fact that both Twitch and Blizzard are well-revered by most of the gaming community, there will always be that overly vocal niche of gamer that takes issue with this pairing. Fans of League of Legends and Counterstrike: Global Offensive will likely be a bit irked by this new development, but, based on my experience with the Dota 2 community, I have a feeling that they'll be the ones who take the most issue with this news.
The mere fact that Heroes of the Storm is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) that plays very similarly to Dota 2 is enough to whip hardcore fans into a frothy wrath. I'm sure there are some Dota 2 fans who understand that the original Dota was born out of a Warcraft 3 mod, which once again lends credence to Blizzard's presence in the eSports arena. But I'm also sure that there are some fans who will still spit vitriol about Blizzard hopping on the MOBA bandwagon too late, and that their partnership with Twitch is an attempt to buy more players for what they view as an inferior version of their beloved Dota 2.
As the majority of the gaming community is made up of people who understand that partnerships like this are part of living within an economic system marked by unchecked capitalism, I expect that any backlash that arises will sputter and die pretty quickly. Any negative opinion about Blizzard or Twitch will rise and fall according to the typical nerd rage trajectory: A small but vocal opposition party will unleash a tweetstorm of malice and boycott speech that will occupy middle-grade channels on Reddit and 4chan for about a week. Once some shocking new controversy comes along to capture the attention of this itinerant cabal of haters, they will predictably shift their focus.
What Does This Mean for eSports?
It means that eSports are so hot right now. The reality of this situation is actually really good news for gamers, especially those who hope to see eSports take a bigger role in our cultural zeitgeist. Blizzard has a solid reputation for developing and publishing great games that become instantly beloved--I couldn't believe how quickly Overwatch became a thing. I'm an extremely antisocial gamer, and Blizzard's properties are the ones that do the best job of showing me how fun it can be to play games with others. All this partnership will do is generate more money and traffic into the eSports industry, which is the best way to see something grow and reach a larger audience.
What do you think of the Blizzard/Twitch (Blitch?) partnership? Good news or bad news?